Taja Sa’ab: The Remarkable Tale of an Empowered Woman

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By Akeel Rashid

Nowadays, when it comes to heading a household or a business establishment by a woman, it is almost akin to a peculiar and curious thing to witness for people in our part of the world. We people are stunned on finding a woman riding a scooty and women empowerment is perceived as a new-sprung development in Kashmir. (It may be noted that the authority, rights and status conferred to Kashmiri women receded as the Kashmir conflict advanced). However, examples galore can be cited that female empowerment is engrained in our society since antiquity. My paternal aunt, who left for her heavenly abode on the 18th February of this year, and her saga symbolized this point and illustrated it vividly.
She is not unique in this. In fact, everyone of us can trace the empowered status of Kashmiri women by revisiting the lives of our grand lineage.
Revering women in Kashmir with ‘Sa’ab’ is very unique, the title which is conferred by Kashmiris to fete a remarkable person and this prized title is exclusively reserved for the men folk only. My deceased paternal aunt was conferred with this title and was widely known as Taja Sa’ab. Taja was the daughter of renowned personality, Abdul Rahim Sofi of Panzipora , Sangrama who was a magistrate (Tehsildaar) in the 1960’s. Taja Sa’ab was consulted by her father on matters related to the societal welfare and was given the authority by him to execute those duties. Taja Sa’ab would distribute the rice among the needy in her locality, besides, fulfilling other important philanthropic duties. Whatever achievements are in the name of his father, she played a great role in shaping these.
Given the huge scope of magisterial job at that time, her father would remain very busy with his official engagements and looking after the affairs at home was very difficult for him. Inspite of having two sons to take the charge of the household, the father of my paternal aunt did not follow the patriarchal norms of society and appointed Taja to head the family. Whatever cultivable land was owned by her father, all of its produce was facilitated by Taja herself. She also recommended her father to purchase a large apple orchard which continues to be an important source of income to our family. As told to me by one of my paternal aunts, Taja had mastered the art of horseback riding and she would take the tour of whole village on a horse.
The father of my paternal aunt passed away several years before his retirement age and the responsibility of entire family fell on the shoulders of Taja. She continued to remain resilient and conducted the marriage of her younger brother and sister. She got married only after handing over a financially stable household to her younger brothers.
Taja had received religious knowledge during her early childhood and she was also very fluent in Persian. It was due to her being generous that Poff Khala (as I loved to call her) was revered by people. She passed away in Bangalore on 18th February, 2018, where her son is settled as a doctor and was brought to her home in Tarzova, Sopore, the next day. Thousands of people including her relatives bid a tearful adieu to my paternal aunt during her last burial rites.

—The author can be reached at: akeelsofi@gmail.com